Truth in Advertising

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First of all, my apologies to our followers for a delay in posting. A rough winter, mixed with illness and some necessary trainings have prevented me from paying attention to the world of blogging. Well, I’m back. Hello again blog world!

Below in the bordered area is a portion of an email blast I received just today… (I think some things need to be addressed)

Advertisement from Mark Riether with South Jersey Water Test:


Well Water & Septic Inspection
Perfect Together!

2 Vital Inspections
1 Reliable Source
1 Convenient Home Visit

Our inspectors are “certified” which means they have taken special septic inspection courses and passed exams (i.e., NJSMA & NAWT). Our work is covered by our Professional Liability Insurance policy. We do not do repair work on septic systems so you don’t have to concern yourself with our being motivated to find problems if they do not exist.

Mark J. Riether,
Certified Inspector NOF # 636
NAWT # NA79490WT

South Jersey Water Test, LLC


 

MY RESPONSE TO THIS ADVERTISEMENT:

Let’s begin. While I am a fan of the saying “kill two birds with one stone”, (Please don’t infer that I am a fan of killing birds in any way) this email blast is fowl (I couldn’t help myself).  The highlighted section that starts with “We do not do repair work on septic systems…” implies that companies that DO perform repair work on septic systems either shouldn’t be trusted or have some hidden agenda.  Yet this same company who also performs water testing DOES do repair, replacement and installation work on water conditioning systems. Should we NOT trust them to do water testing?  Would you prefer a septic system expert to inspect your septic system?  Would I trust a licensed plumber to diagnose an issue with my car? I will leave the answers to those questions up to you!

Next, let’s discuss the highlighted “NJSMA” portion. NJSMA is an acronym for New Jersey Septage Management Association. This is an organization that does not exist anymore. They have NOT had any meetings for many years and they never provided TRAININGS. Not convinced? Google both NJSMA and New Jersey Septage Management Association.  You will likely find the same thing I did. “North Jersey School Music Association” God Bless this group! Both of my daughters were in band and their school orchestra in High School, but I digress. A New Jersey Septage Management Association search will find a link to PSMA or Pennsylvania Septage Management Association. This organization is alive and well but is no longer partnered with or associated with NJSMA.  PSMA ( www.psma.net ) , NAWT (National Association of Wastewater Technicians www.nawt.org ) and NSF International (National Science Foundation http://www.nsf.org/services/by-industry/water-wastewater/onsite-wastewater/inspector-accreditation ) are the only national or regional organizations who certify septic system inspectors with testing and all of these certifications expire which require either continuing education or re-certification classes.  NAWT’s certifications expire 2 years after being awarded.  They also changed their certification numbers 3 years ago. NAWT’s certification number no longer begins with “NA” or end with “WT” and they have not for 3 years. This is simple math.  The email goes on to show another certification # from NOF. Google that one as well and good luck! Unless someone can be certified to inspect septic systems from the National Osteoporosis Foundation or the Norsk Orkideforening (Norwegian Orchid Society) this appears to be an invalid certification.

All this took was less than 5 minutes of searching on the internet to find the inconsistencies and potentially misleading or worse, possibly false information in this email blast.  If you are going to send out emails to try to gain business please advertise what you do well.  Focus on the good you do! It looks bad on everyone in the industry to advertise negative thoughts or opinions.  And mostly don’t be hypocritical!  Bravo for performing 2000 inspections since 2003!  By the way, since April 1, 2012, if you do perform a septic inspection in the State of NJ the protocol states clearly that those inspection reports are to be submitted to the local Health Department (Administrative Authority) for review and record keeping! NJAC 7:9A Appendix F is the only correct form to submit.

Until next time,

Profile Pic

Joe Garner

General Manager, English Sewage Disposal, Inc

 

NEHA CIOWTS-A 9009984

NJ Real Estate C.E. Instructor I1000325

PSMA Education Committee Member

PSMA/NOF Certified Advanced Inspector – 0210714219

NAWT Certified Professional Installer 8767WTS

NAWT Certified Inspector – 8767ITC

Home Improvement Contractor License#00181200

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WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECTOR

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My thoughts are to look at this from a couple of different points of view. My training and experience normally make me look at things from a technical or logistical position. However, occasionally, I also tend to be somewhat emotional with my thought process (Maybe more than occasionally if you ask my staff but I will plead the 5th here). 

From a purely technical point of view, here is a description of what I would want in an Inspector: 

  1. Someone who is licensed! In NJ there are currently no licensing requirements for a Septic System Inspector!  The State does require either a Home Improvement Contractor License (HICL) for anyone performing most types of work on a home owners property to ensure that they are properly registered and insured. This leads to #2.
  2. Someone who is INSURED! The State does not require someone who performs a Septic System Inspection to be insured! However, I would absolutely require this before hiring someone to come onto my property, but more than that, I would also want a copy of their Liability and Workman’s Comp Insurance Certificate. Insurance is a requirement for someone who holds an HICL.
  3. Someone who is Certified! There are several organizations in the U.S. who hold training sessions for Septic System Inspectors. One of those is the National Association of Wastewater Technicians (NAWT). NAWT provides this training with a national viewpoint so that all inspectors across the nation, upon a passing test score, have the basic knowledge and understanding of general terms and procedures. Another organization is Pennsylvania Septage Management Association (PSMA). PSMA provides not only basic knowledge of core principles but also an Advanced level of training for Septic System Inspectors for a much deeper understanding of procedures and practical knowledge. Testing is done for both levels with a minimum passing score required for certification. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) offers annual training for Septic System Inspectors through Cook College in New Brunswick but they DO NOT provide any type of certification nor licensing for this training (all that is required is attendance at the training and a self graded quiz).
  4. Someone who follows the Septic System Inspection Protocol! According to NJDEP, septic system inspections are not required by law. However, if you are going to perform a Septic System Inspection specifically for a transfer of real property and wish to have the inspection officially recognized as a NJDEP inspection, you must follow the procedures and reporting requirements provided by the NJDEP under N.J.A.C. 7:9A Appendix E (procedures) and Appendix F (reporting).   The procedure provides a standardized step by step process to maintain consistency between inspectors. 

The self interested side of me would want a few other things: 

  1. Someone who has access to the latest in technology (and knows how to use it)! This speaks for itself.
  2. Someone who can explain the findings in clear and plain English!  This is a must. The terminology used in the rules and regulations is very industry specific and sometimes needs to be further explained clearly and in context.  In particular how site conditions may affect the overall report outcome or report limitations.  These reports are designed to provide information valuable for the negotiations that happen between a buyer and seller (and of course their Agents).  At times the Health Department will provide their own perspective.  This is all important.  The more accurate and complete the report the more accurate the decisions that can be made.
  3. Someone who is prepared! I would want to see that the company inspecting my septic system has taken the time to look for Health Department records, called in an underground utility markout, has in their possession the NJDEP check list and reporting form and is prepared to perform the inspection.  Without the proper organization it is more difficult to provide an accurate assessment of a system without skipping steps.  Having a copy on hand during the inspection is a great place to start with finding all the system components. The legally required underground utility markout is also very important since the inspector may very well be digging in, on or near a gas line, cable line, underground electric line, etc.
  4. If you have a copy of your sprinkler system layout it can avoid damage to the piping during probing and digging.  You don’t want to have an inspector damaging a sprinkler line if it can be helped. Access to the house is critical in determining the exit points of sewer line(s) from inside the house. Permission for the inspector is important i.e. do we have permission from the seller or their agent to actually be on the property? 

This is basically just a “scratch the surface” list and is not meant to describe all necessary requirements for all people. Please share any and all opinions for this list and add any other personal choice requirements in the comments section below. I look forward to your thoughts and hope to continue this discussion. If you wish to message me privately, please email me at joe.garner@englishsewage.com anytime. 

My next post will delve into a recent septic system inspection for a real estate transfer. I know you’re on the edge of your seat for that!

 Until next time,

 

Joe Garner – General Manager   

Septic 101 for NJ Real Estate Agents

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Attention all Real Estate Professionals!! I’m sure you have run into that “stinky” situation when selling a property that has a septic system.  That closing date doesn’t look so close now, I bet.  Unfortunately, you can not control or avoid it when a system needs repairs, or even worse, needs to be completely replaced.  However, you can help yourself, your colleagues, and customers by being prepared and knowledgeable to handle these “stinky” situations.

As a certified CE Instructor of septic system inspections, English Septic offers a Septic101 class to all NJ Real Estate Agents.  This course is a FREE class that offers 2 Elective CE Credits towards your R.E. license renewal. This is a “MUST TAKE” for all Realtors!! This class helps you to fully understand the where, what, who, and how’s of a septic system and the inspection protocol. And we all know that the septic system can make or break your real estate transaction.  The FREE Septic101 course will review first the new changes to the Septic Code NJAC 7:9A; which, by the way, was 22 years in the making. We will discuss the necessary system components that can obviously get a little messy.  We also, review NJ DEP Permits, and the NJDEP standardized Inspection Protocol and Health Department reporting requirements.

Not only does this course give 2 CE Credits, it’s a very informative and knowledgeable class that will leave you with a better understanding of septic systems as a whole.  The course breaks down the NJAC 7:9A in simple descriptions which help you understand the purpose, procedures, and rules enacted by the NJDEP.  And I believe that you, as a Real Estate Professional, need to know the new “rules and regulations” that can affect you directly as an agent.  In addition to the New Code, the instructor explains the different legal types of “septic systems”, and those not considered legal systems since April 2012.

The second half of the course is usually where you as the agent get a little more involved since it reviews Health Department Permits and the Inspection process.  I’m sure you will have input and questions.  ALL questions are welcome!

I have failed to mention, up until this point, that the Septic101 course instructor is the General Manager here at English Septic and is a certified NJ Real Estate C.E. Instructor, certified NAWT Inspector and Professional Installer, a PSMA/NOF Certified Advanced Inspector, and NEHA CIOWTS-A (Certified Installer Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems – Advanced) Installer. Obviously, you want someone who knows what they’re talking about (someone who knows their sh*t!!)

If this is something you are interested in, contact us to set up a date and time to come to your office. You can schedule this class by calling 856-358-4771 or emailing Joe Garner joe.garner@englishsewage.com or myself melissa.smith@englishsewage.com, anytime.  If you haven’t decided by now that this class is important then feel free to contact me anytime with any questions. To agents, remember your next sale could depend upon the knowledge you have in septic systems! To buyers and sellers, keep in mind, the more your agents know the better they can help you!

Please stay tuned to our next blog on “What to look for in an Inspector/Company.”  This will provide you with some helpful tips when you choose to have an inspection. I look forward to your feed back!

Until next time,

Melissa Smith – Administrative Assistant

 

Prescription Drug Disposal

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The News Media recently reported that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, on Nov. 19, signed a bill that bans health care facilities from dumping unused prescription medications into public sewers or into septic systems.

Prescription medicines serve a specific purpose and do not belong in our drinking water.  Governor Christie signed this legislation to ensure that our drinking water is clean and healthy.   The safest way to make sure children aren’t at risk from pharmaceuticals in our drinking water is to stop dumping medicine into the water supply.  Medical facilities can lead the way by properly disposing unused drugs.

The law followed a Press report in 2008 that found traces of drugs in drinking water in 24 metro areas where 41 million people live.

The law requires health care institutions to submit a plan to the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Environmental Protection for disposal of unused prescription drugs. The plan must describe how the institution will properly dispose of medications.  Violations are punishable by fines up to $2,500.

Most hospitals and health care institutions probably already dispose of medicines safely. There has been ample publicity about concerns over the effects of pharmaceuticals in drinking water. A logical next step is what to do to make sure the rest of us do what we should with unused drugs.

Project Medicine Drop

Many communities have drug drop-off programs, but many do not. It would be great to see every community provide a medicine drop off program so that they are safely destroyed and do not end up in our drinking water.  Here is a link for current drop off locations in NJ from the  NJ Division of Consumer Affairs website http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/meddrop/locations.htm 

At English we have long recommended against disposal of medications into your septic system where it can be harmful to the bacteria and cause system failures.   Most homes with on site septic systems have well water too.  The decision to avoid introducing prescription drugs into your drinking water is in your hands.   Approach your community leaders to develop a drug drop-off program to protect the drinking water supply in general. 

Until next time,

Paul Behrens, Owner

English Sewage Disposal, Inc.

Personal View from a Home Buyer

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As a first time home buyer I have heard a lot of false information regarding the septic system servicing the home.  In my case I have heard several times that the septic has been updated in the “last five years”.  With my knowledge of septic systems it doesn’t take long for me to realize that an update in the last five years has not happened. 

It has occurred to me that a buyer who doesn’t have the knowledge of septic systems may believe the seller and be shocked towards the end of the settlement, or a few years down the road that the system was not up to par. Septic systems can be a large amount of money to fix or replace, therefore I believe buyers should have some basic knowledge of septic systems.   As a result, I am offering the following basic pointers. 

When you first look at a property, I recommend that you consider the following pointers while you are onsite and things you can do once you get home.

On-Site:

  • Ask the homeowner or agent where the system is located.
  • Look for any wet spots or areas where the grass is very lush and green.
  • Ask the home owner to show you any records that support what they are telling you – last pumping date, repair records.

By asking for the location of the system, it allows you to check out the area around the system.  Major signs would be puddles or areas of exposed sewage.  All of these signs will show that the Drainfield may be over saturated and no longer in proper use. 

At Home:

  • Everybody has the ability to request septic system records from the County Health Department.
    • Each HD is different on how they want the request but a quick phone call or a visit to their website can help you in your request.
    • The request is free.
  • Order a nonofficial septic evaluation.

The records request is very important because if there are records on file they can reveal the type, location and system age as well as help identify “undocumented system modifications” which may indicate a previous malfunction.  If there are no records it could mean many different things depending upon the age of the home.

It may indicate that the system is extremely old and installed at a time when the Health Department was not recording or saving installation documents. Perhaps that update or installation was done without a permit, proper oversight or legal design.

Without records, in NJ, you must have a new engineered design prepared and approved to bring the system up to current standards.  The only work that can be performed without septic records are small repairs (any work that does not involve an engineer).  Even with minor repairs a Health Department permit is required before replacement.  Examples of small repairs are; installing an effluent filter, bringing lids to the surface, distribution box repair, etc.  Any repairs or an alteration to a drain field does require an engineer.     

Realtors have a process and schedule that they follow for inspections and in a particular order.  The “official” septic inspection falls towards the end of the list.  Therefore, I believe, the evaluation can be the best possible thing you as a buyer can do.  Have the evaluation performed before you even put an offer in on the house or right after.  I say this because in many instances a month is not sufficient time to make corrections because of the need for permit approvals or designs.  The best advice is to not wait until the last minute or you may not make your closing date. 

Overall, it is better for everyone involved in a home sale to have the septic information up front so things can be scheduled accordingly. 

Please stay tuned to our next blog on Septic 101.  This is a class that buyer/seller agents can take to learn more about septic systems.  The more your agents know the better they can help you!

Until next time, 

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Jamie Wilson – Executive Assistant

English Sewage Disposal, Inc

Customer Questionnaire

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I have an interesting dilemma sitting in front of me regarding an estimate. I guess the best way to describe it is to describe the events that have led up to me writing this.

I just finished putting the final touches on my first Blog post (http://wp.me/p4iP0n-4and sent it out to the world. I grabbed a stack of paperwork and the first note I read is “Customer wants budget proposal”. Background: We performed a septic inspection of this property last week (40-year-old house and system) and found 2 systems. One system has a tank and small “drain field” (really it’s a couple of laterals). The other “system” has a grease trap and a cesspool for gray water (kitchen sink, dishwasher and laundry discharge). The buyers really want the property and the seller is “motivated to sell” (I’m not 100% sure what that means but I’ll play along).

This property, because of the cesspool rule in the septic code, will need a new system designed and installed. There are no records on file with the Health Department so we have no accurate soils information on hand. The engineer has already given us an idea of what we may be facing using the NJ Soils Survey but this is a borderline soils property. The Seasonally High Water Table (SHWT) is about 4’ deep. The soils themselves are a terrible mix of clay, loam and sand (in that order). The house is sitting on a crawl space with sewer lines on each side of the house that will need to be combined into one line, if possible. The only logical place to put a new system is in the back yard because the well is located in the front yard and the house has both cable and gas running underground through the front yard as well. The back yard is fenced and riddled with trees of various sizes (10 – 15 trees in the general vicinity of the construction area). Access to the back yard can only be accomplished by removing a few sections of the fence.

Here’s where my dilemma comes into play. There’s obviously going to be some negotiating taking place here between the buyer and seller (more correctly between the buyers and sellers Agents). This is a VERY complicated site. The engineer will have several options regarding the system design: Conventional system with septic tank and properly sized drain field (not promising because of the SHWT and bad soils), Mounded system with a septic tank, pump station and a mounded drain field or an Advanced Treatment System with a drain field (maybe mounded with a pump station or maybe at ground level). We won’t know anything, for sure, until the engineering design is completed. However (HERE IT COMES), we have been asked to submit a “Budget Proposal” to the buyer to include the engineering, soils testing, Health Department permit fees, site work, plumbing changes, proper abandonment of the existing septic system(s) and the installation of a not yet designed septic system (which may or may not need electrical work).

Ok. Logically speaking I can do one of 3 things: Firstly, I can give the customer a fully bloated “worst case scenario” proposal which would have to border on the children’s book character Chicken Little. I wonder what the seller (and more importantly the sellers Agent) is going to say about this proposal… (Actually, I can already hear it, “you guys are too expensive”, “we’re going to get more proposals”, “Are you f*#^ing crazy”, etc). Secondly, I can do my due diligence and use my experience to get this as close as humanly possible to reality and do it RIGHT (Which is my preferred way of going about it but will still possibly not capture all of the correct pricing. Again there are many MANY unknowns here). Lastly, I can underbid (under-estimate) this job to get the contract signed and get a deposit and then hit the customer over the head with the real bill once the Health Department has approved the design and I realize how much is really involved with this installation (Or take as many shortcuts as possible, trying to not get caught, to get the system installed close to my low ball estimate). In this case, the seller would probably make out better at closing, the buyer probably wouldn’t realize they have a “cheated” system for a few years until it starts acting up, and the installer would be moving on to their next customer, continuing a culture of unethical behavior which has run rampant through the industry for decades. (This is NOT our method of behavior!)

Obviously, I have thrown my own opinions into this narrative but I put it to you. Please answer honestly! The comments section below is public but the answers to the question are anonymous.

I look forward to your comments and the results of the survey!

Until next time,

Joe Garner
General Manager – English Sewage Disposal, Inc.

Septic System Inspection Results for 2013

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All 2013 Septic Inspection results have been catalogued and I am ready to present those results to you along with what the results mean.

            “Septic system inspector means a person who performs inspections of systems in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:9A-12.6 for inspections during real property transfers.” 7:9A-2.1

Let me begin by stating that all of the 2013 Septic System Inspections have been completed IAW N.J.A.C. 7:9A-12.6 along with the inspection protocol and reporting requirements found in Appendices E & F.   Greek to you – Right?  Basically this is a standard process provided to inspectors to allow everyone to evaluate or report on septic systems using the same methodology. 

Here is a basic breakdown of the results:

Satisfactory

Unsatisfactory

Total

87

103

190

 I know most people understand what satisfactory means but just for definition purposes:

sat•is•fac•to•ry (ˌsæt ɪsˈfæk tə ri, -ˈfæk tri) 
adj.

  1. satisfying demands, expectations, or requirements; adequate.

Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. 

I do want to take a closer look at the “Unsatisfactory” category and describe some examples of what is considered an unsatisfactory septic system.  (Keep in mind that the Inspection Procedure describes certain conditions of a system and which may place the system in Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory or Satisfactory with Concerns categories.)   One automatic Unsatisfactory is: Cesspool.

  1. 20 of these systems were found to be “Cesspools” (“Cesspool” means a covered pit with open-jointed lining into which untreated sewage is discharged, the liquid portion of which is disposed of by leaching into the surrounding soil, the solids or sludge being retained within the pit.)  According to the septic code – 7:9A-3.16 Other sanitary sewage disposal units

     (a)    “Cesspools, privies, outhouses, latrines, pit toilets or similar sanitary sewage disposal units are not systems. When an administrative authority discovers a privy, outhouse, latrine, pit toilet or similar sanitary sewage disposal unit, or any cesspool that serves a structure and that is in need of repair or alteration, it must order these units be abandoned and a conforming system installed…”

     (b)    Effective June 2, 2012, … “all cesspools, privies, outhouses, latrines and pit toilets that are part of a real property transfer shall be abandoned and replaced with a system in accordance with (a) above.”

   2.      The rest of this category is mix of reasons. Most had multiple reasons for being unsatisfactory. Many of the systems (more than 50) were older systems (built before 1990 according to tax records) where either the Health Departments had no records or when they did have records the systems were found to be undersized, the soil was saturated and/or other components were physically falling apart or had deteriorated completely.  (I do need to point out here that the age of the system alone does not make a system unsatisfactory.)

   3.      We found a lot of broken distribution boxes and septic tank lids.

   4.      We also found several instances where overflow lines were installed to “help” the system drain better and a few where that “helper” line flowed directly to a stream or creek.

   5.      There is some good news here even with the unsatisfactory group.  35 of these required only minor repairs costing between $500 and $1,500 to get back to a satisfactory condition. Many of these minor repairs included replacing broken or missing baffles and installing new tank and distribution box lids where they were found to be cracked or broken. In some cases we only needed to replace only a distribution box or connecting piping.

All in all the inspection results we had in 2013 were typical and similar to our statistics going back to 2010.   Not every system will be satisfactory and an unsatisfactory system is better found during the sales process rather than after closing.

At the end of the day, the inspector follows a specific guidance document and reports his findings to the Health Department who makes the final decision as to the acceptability of the system.   Some are more forgiving than others, some more strict interpreters of the code.   We all have to follow their guidance.

If you are looking to buy or sell a home and you have a septic system, hire a reputable company; one that has, at a minimum, liability and workman’s comp insurance and one that been certified to inspect your septic system the correct way by following the NJDEP Inspection Protocol.  I can discuss the various organizations providing the necessary training for inspectors in a later Blog.   

Please feel free to comment below and/or email me directly with any questions, comments or concerns at joe.garner@englishsewage.com .

Until next time, 

Joe Garner

General Manager – English Sewage Disposal, Inc.